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On the brain: What's for lunch?

With Hood to Coast now fading into a memory, we are looking forward to the start of school next year.  We're trying to enjoy these last moments of summer vacation.  No summer camps this week, only organizing school supplies and cooler weather clothing.  We're trying on backpacks and making sure our lunch totes fit into the backpacks.  And, we are talking about lunches.

As I was reading about Portland Public School's new nutrition plan, I needed to organize my thoughts and cupboards around the lunches that await us.  I asked my first-grader to make a list of her favorite lunch items (we pack lunch almost every day), and I reminded her that she needed to have a protein, a fruit, and a veggie with every meal.  I typically stay away from packing snacks or granola bars, fearing that those would be the only items eaten when it came to lunch.  I am checking out the archives for suggestions on what's for lunch, here and here, but why not restart the conversation anew?  Come next week, what are you packing in the kids' lunchboxes?

Interested in learning more about bringing healthful food to our schools?  See how you can support local and larger-scale efforts through the Ecotrust Farm to School work.


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Thanks for this post! I have been searching for some new ideas for my sons' lunches and would be particularly interested in any gluten free ideas.

Even though we're not in Portland PS, I'm excited to hear the news on school lunch improvements there. It gives me hope that we can do that in our small school too!

We just shared some healthy, tasty, and easy-for-mom lunch ideas on Feed Our Family this week.

Our kids love hot lunch like their friends so I sometimes try to plan for them to have something similar to what the school serves - but our healthy version.

Heidi - for GF lunches, we often do "snack lunch" which is really a bunch of healthy snacks like carrots w/hummus, apple slices w/almond butter, cheese, trail mix, etc. We'll use GF crackers instead of bread for whole grains.

Now that my kids are out of diapers, packing lunches is my least favorite chore of parenthood. We don't buy lunch meat, which I wouldn't consider a problem, but my kids refuse to eat either peanut (or any nut) butter or cheese, the little pipsqueaks. That means I can't just slap a quick pb&j or cheddar sandwich together on those crazy mornings. And since there are no allergies involved, I have to say, I resent the heck out of being deprived of those time-honored. super-quick options.

However, after 7 years of school, I do have my routine items to fill those containers in the Laptop lunchboxes:

hummus in a mini pita
avocado sandwich on pita or bread
leftover beans and rice
leftover homemade pizza
cream cheese sandwich (the one cheese they will eat!)
hard-boiled egg + bread and butter
chili in a little thermos

If I'm feeling particularly loving and creative, I might make veggie sushi with avocado and steamed carrot.

For fruit I usually do sliced apples or a mix of frozen berries (hooray for u-pick and a chest freezer!) In a closed container, they're thawed by lunchtime.

I also generally add a frozen carrot-zucchini muffin (ditto on the thawing).

The only cut up veggies the kids will eat, darn them, are red peppers and cucumbers. We try to be really conscious of not buying things out of season or from far away, but I've made my peace with peppers from Chile in the winter and spring.

For a "snacky" item, I usually go with raisins and peanuts. (Yes! They love peanuts but won't eat peanut butter. Go figure.)

Hey there!

We moved to Seattle from Portland last year, and our district started school this week. Some winners for my second-grader include:
-- cold tortellini with a little olive oil and chopped veggies
-- whole wheat zucchini or banana or pumpkin bread/muffins with light cream cheese
-- whole grain wraps with PB&J or PB, honey, banana and raisins or ham and cheese
-- yogurt with a separate container of granola to combine at lunch

She has a snack at 10:30 and we include a small container of homemade trail mix, popcorn, edamame, dried fruits, whole wheat pretzels, etc.

We freeze berries, organic milk boxes, string cheese, yogurt tubes and water bottles. Keeps things cold and are thawed by lunchtime!

She mentioned she's like to bring Mom's soup and bread to school-- Anyone have a recommendation on thermal/spill-proof containers?

(Congrats on H2C, by the way!)

My daughter likes leftovers for lunch. On days when we have leftovers like pasta or rice dishes it makes packing lunch a breeze. We use containers with snap lids from Target and a thermos from Land End. Since she is GF she also likes the snack lunches @ Gina. But we are always looking for new ideas so I will keep my eye out for this discussion next week.

I know those Laptop Lunch systems seem expensive, but I finally bought one for my daughter and it made packing SO MUCH easier. Plus, no plastic baggies, no sandwiches getting squashed, no having to wash and dry the reusable snack bags. Just fill up the four compartments and, done. It also made it more systematic to think "fruit, veg, grain, protein."

I always save a portion of cooked pasta from dinner, and throw that in with parmesan cheese. Cherry tomatoes, hummus, berries, etc.

Thanks Gina for the "snack lunch" ideas, sounds perfect! Reading all of these delicious ideas is making me hungry!

We have not started school, but have had summer camp practice runs for lunches. We are nut and peanut free at our house. I have also been trying to make the same or similar lunch for myself so I am not making too many different meals.

So far things that have worked:
- grilled (on the Foreman) turkey (or ham) and cheese sandwich on light rye or whole grain bread
- sliced cucumbers
- sliced raw zucchini
- frozen peas
- frozen berries
- ½ a banana
- the "snack lunch" similar to Gina’s with whole grain crackers, cheese, turkey, veggies, fruit, yogurt
- burrito with whole wheat tortilla, beans, brown rice and cheese (or quesadilla with same) + baked chips
- yogurt tubes
- applesauce
- left over macaroni and cheese
- left over couscous/chicken/veggies/garbanzo beans

We use SnapWare. Easy to open and close. And they are only for lunches - not fridge storage. Keeping it separate has made it easier. MIL made some fun cloth napkins and we have specific (i.e., old) silverware for lunches. Everything lunch box/packing realted in the same cupboard/bins.

Ready to hear more ideas.

thai style salad rolls with vegi's and tofu are popular with my 7 y/o I give her a sweet chili or peanut style dipping sauce. She also likes vegi samosas filled with curry potatoes, carrots and peas. She will eat at room temp with hummus to dip. I make them out of egg roll wrappers and bake a bunch then freeze and thaw in micro for packing. She also likes sandwiches made on the new bagel thins (rather than a large bagel).

Mary, those salad rolls sound great! Do you do them ahead of time, like the night before? Or in the morning - does it take a lot of time? Care to share your technique?

Mary - I love the idea of making rolls or samosas ahead of time & freezing. I'm doing a bunch of cooking/freezing of dinners (with extra for leftover lunches) this weekend so that dinner is one less thing we have to spend time fussing with during the first week of school. Would love a recipe if you have one to share.

We use a Thermos food jar to take leftovers, or yogurt to school and have had so much success for both kids. We use other containers for snacks & love those reusable bags - making some of our own this weekend too!

wow...my list for this weekend is growing.

Courtney - can you tell me how you make your pita chips? They taste so yummy!

Here's the link to the Kid (and Mom) Friendly School Lunch Ideas article at Feed Our Families...hope it provides a few more ideas


All my ideas have already been spoken for, but I just wanted to say that this is the first I've heard of the new PPS lunch plans. Kudos to them for making some great positive changes to the school lunch lineup.

My kid is still too little to need a lunch, but I try to pack lunches for myself and my husband to save money. It's basically the same thing except that we eat more than a kid would, which makes the packing take longer! Some of my go-tos:

- Homemade "lunchables" (cheese, crackers, lunchmeat)
- Homemade Toby's pate on tortilla or bread
- Hard boiled eggs
- Nuts and dried fruit
- Yogurt with a dollop of jam or frozen fruit
- Yogurt-fruit smoothies
- Edamame pods
- Rice with veggies and some bento protein (love justbento.com)
- Rice salad (rice, veggies, tuna or beans in vinaigrette)
- 3-bean salad
- Baked beans
- Bean-and-cheese quesadillas with salsa on the side

I just realized maybe I should post the homemade Toby's recipe? A friend reverse-engineered it years ago and it turns out identical (but much cheaper).


1/2 lb tofu
2-3 Tb mayonnaise or plain yogurt
1 Tb vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 tsp honey
1 Tb dehydrated onion powder
1 Tb nutritional yeast
2 tsp mustard
1 tsp dried dill
salt to taste
1/4 C finely chopped celery
2 Tb very finely chopped jalapeno pepper
2 T chopped parsley

Combine first 9 ingredients (tofu through salt) in food processor or blender and blend to mix well (or, mash all by hand until combined; texture will not be as fine). Stir in celery, jalapeno pepper, and parsley.

For the Thai salad rolls I usually make up the night before and wrap with saran wrap the way the restaurants do. I have found they will keep that way for a couple of days. They can be time consuming depending on the ingredients you choose but I use the seasoned teriyaki tofu from traders joes and then just add avocado and a few other vegi's lettuce, cucumbers and shredded carrots usually with herbs from the garden. My dd really loves the flavor cilantro and mint.

As far as the Samosas go I don't really have a recipe but this one is similar to the filling I make http://www.samosa-recipe.com/Vegetable_Samosa.html with the addition of cumin and I do make it in a larger amount
and I put it in store bought wonton wrappers brush with olive oil and bake till golden.

We tried to make our 15-yr old boy eat something healthy at school, but unfortunately we couldn't. He is stubborn as hell and refuses to eat everything that was cooked at home. I guess that homemade food doesn't seem cool amongst teenagers, they prefer tacky wraps and well-recognized brands like Cheetos, Lays or Coca-Cola. He doesn't even eat fruit and usually brings bananas back, smashed all inside his backpack.
It's so sad to realize that our kids are brainwashed by commercials and refuse to eat healthy:(

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